A laser pointer – defined as a hand-held battery-operated device, designed or adapted to emit a powerful, dazzling green laser beam used for the purposes of aiming, targeting or pointing – not only has the potential to completely disorient a pilot, but also has the capacity to blind them.
As common sense would then dictate, when a police helicopter is doggedly roaming the skies trying to track a pursuit or search for a fugitive, the piercing glare of a laser pointer is the last thing a pilot wants to see, let alone pointed right at them.
Nevertheless, this has not stopped members of the public from engaging in brazen attacks on a variety of different aircraft across Sydney’s night skies.
In fact, in recent weeks, NSW Police have confirmed over a dozen such attacks aimed at police choppers and other aircraft, with the unlawful use of laser beams worryingly on the rise.
At the beginning of May 2021, for example, a cowardly incident took place on an NSW Police chopper in which a group of men loitering around several parked cars, launched the blinding beam from the covers of darkness in Sydney, spearing the cockpit.
Onboard, PolAir camera scanned the ground below, spotting the men.
Meanwhile, last month, it was reported that in Pendle Hill, another such attack took place in which a 45-year-old man pointed a laser beam directly at a tactical flight officer multiple times from the safety of his backyard.
It was alleged that so badly did flight officer suffer discomfort following his eyes being hit by the laser beam that it temporarily blinded him.
After the alleged incident, the crew on the helicopter guided police to the man’s location.
He was arrested and charged with do act with intent to prejudice safety of aircraft.
In New South Wales, it is a criminal offence to aim a laser pointer at any aircraft or use one in a public place without a reasonable excuse.
Police Determined to Catch Laser Pointer Offenders and Warn They Will Be Prosecuted
In the aftermath of this incident, a warning came from police that laser pointer offenders will be caught and prosecuted.
Addressing the matter, Aviation Commander Detective Superintendent Brad Monk reminded that from the air, laser beams are easily spotted.
“Remember, we have a birds-eye-view from the air and can easily identify where a laser beam is coming from,” Detective Superintendent Monk said.
“If you’re caught breaking the law, we will find you and you’ll be prosecuted.”
Detective Superintendent Monk also advised that it is never safe to point a laser at an aircraft.
“At no distance and in no circumstance is it safe to point a laser at aircraft,” he said.
“Laser beams can impair the eyesight of those on board and endanger the lives of the crew and the public.”
Police have since advised that anyone who witnesses an attack should contact police immediately.
The Serious Problem of Laser Pointers
While it might sound inconsequential, even a small, battery-operated laser pointer can have the capacity to cause significant damage to a pilot or aircraft.
Indeed, when brazenly aimed into the cockpit of an aircraft or even at motor vehicles, they then have the ability to blind and also cause loss of control, which in turn can lead to potential loss of life.
For NSW Police, this is the very problem when it comes to laser pointers – that many members of the public have “acted irresponsibly” with them, and this is why, in order to deter such behaviour, the Government in 2018 enforced that it an offence for anyone to have a laser pointer in their custody in a public place or to use a laser pointer in a public place without a reasonable excuse.
Of course, it is understood that people use laser pointers for legitimate purposes and that some people need to carry their laser pointers around with them, as is the case of some teachers, builders and even astronomers who use laser pointers in their jobs.
Nevertheless, if a police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that you are in possession of a laser pointer in a public place without a reasonable excuse, they can search you, confiscate your laser and take legal action.
Are Laser Pointers Legal in New South Wales?
Are laser pointers legal in NSW? Generally speaking, laser pointers, where used irresponsibly, can actually present as a serious risk to aircraft and their crew, or even motor vehicles.
Unless you have a reasonable excuse, it is an offence in NSW to be in the custody of a laser pointer or use one in a public place. Section 11FA of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW), prescribes a maximum penalty of a $5,500 fine, or two years in jail, or both, for an offence.
It should be noted that, without limitation, it is a reasonable excuse for a person:
- To have custody of, or use, a laser pointer if the custody or use is reasonably necessary in all the circumstances for the lawful pursuit of the person’s occupation, education, training or hobby, or
- To have custody of a laser pointer if the person has custody during travel to or from or incidental to that occupation, education, training or hobby.
Current NSW legislation also restricts those who can possess and/or use laser pointers with a power level of greater than one milliwatt, designed or adapted to emit a laser beam, which can be used for purposes of aiming or targeting or pointing. It is illegal to possess or use this kind of laser pointer unless you have a valid weapons permit.
Up to 14-years imprisonment is prescribed for having a laser pointer of this kind without a permit, according to section 7 Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 (NSW).
Further to this, it is a crime carrying up to 20 years imprisonment according to section 19 Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 (Cth) for doing anything capable of prejudicing the safe operation of a Division 3 aircraft with the intention of prejudicing the safe operation of the aircraft.
By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.